Art and Racism: Healing Racial Schisms

When Ashley Powell, a graduate student in Art at the State University of New York at Buffalo placed “white only” and “black only” signs around campus without explanation as a way to expose white privilege, reactions ranged from support to anger and indignation to even reactions among nonwhites of “fearing for their lives.” As Powell explained to the campus newspaper:

I am in pain. My art practice is a remnant of my suffering, but also an antidote that brings about healing. The afflictions I suffer from are self-hate, trauma, pain and an unbearable and deafening indignation. White privilege and compliance only exacerbate my symptoms.

Powell further reflects on the graveness of reality arising from social structures of racism that require, in her words, “constant endurance, resilience, and burden.” Nonetheless, due to the pressure exerted on her campus, it appears that Ashley Powell felt she needed to apologize for the trauma the signs caused, but not for what she did.

The comments on the news story regarding Powell’s art project are equally surprising, ranging from concerns expressed about fighting already-won battles of the past, to accusing Powell herself of “racism” and noting her use of misused commas in her letter to the campus newspaper.

At a time in our nation’s history when racial divides appear to be deeper than ever and when the rhetoric about “otherness” and keeping people out of America and its institutions has escalated, messages of reassurance and challenge such as delivered by Pope Francis at the United Nations create a powerful counterpoint. Speaking in what could be seen as radical and even revolutionary terms, the Pope stated:

To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their groupings.

He added, ‘Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offence against human rights and the environment” and called for the right of men and women “to be dignified agents of their own destiny.”

In speaking out against injustice, Ashley Powell’s message is a powerful voice. Students in our universities have long been the standard bearers of social change, such as during the Civil Rights movement. As Pope Francis warned, we cannot wait to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to attend to the “fierce urgency of now” has been adopted as the title of Julian Zelizer’s new book, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. The book recalls the stunning achievements of 1963-1966 including the passage of Civil Rights legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, and the War on Poverty. Attending to our deeply rooted racial schisms does require our collective willingness to take concerted action on long-overdue agendas and to engage in collaborative and committed work to attain the promise of a greater union.

Edna Chun is Chief Learning Officer for HigherEd Talent, a national diversity and human resources consulting firm, and has more than two decades of experience as Chief Human Resources Officer in higher education. A list of her publications can be found on her website at


Note to readers: This post is written by Rubén Blades and is translated from Spanish. This title, Trump-ada, is a play on the Spanish word “trompada,“ which means “punch” or “blow with the fist” and the suffix “ada” which can indicate “series” or “collection,” as in series or collection of Trump’s statements. 


TheDonalds - Trump and Duck

(The Donalds, Trump and Duck – image source)

Many decades ago Walt Disney created a character that initially attracted more hostility than affection: Donald Duck. Irascibility was his dominant trait; When things did not go his way, Donald blew up in a paroxysm yelling at the top of his lungs in a language that normal people could not understand.

Donald Duck reminds me of Donald Trump. They share much beyond a common first name, with one exception: While Donald Duck has never worn pants (clothing), the human Donald boasts of his pants’ (masculinity’s) prowess and as proof he rants against anyone who has the audacity to contradict his opinions, that are just that, opinions instead of governmental programs or concrete proposals aimed at dealing responsibly with the complexities of public leadership. I have some knowledge about these matters. I ran in a national election as a candidate for Panama’s presidency, and served for five years in an official capacity, where I was exposed to public scrutiny from all sides. I believe that such experience qualifies me to offer my opinion on the views of Mr. Trump, a very rich bragger whose ego surpasses his country’s GNP. His latest shenanigan was to have journalist Jorge Ramos removed from one of his soliloquies that he disguises as a press conferences.

Like his namesake, Donald (Duck), Mr. Trump reacted irritably to Mr. Ramos’s questions and Mr. Ramos’s position within Univisión, which was one of the first members of the media to respond to Mr. Trump’s racist insults. Although some believe that Mr. Ramos provoked the incident by asking questions out of turn or to attract attention I believe that he wanted Trump to face what Trump does so frequently: bullying. In other words, Trump faced some of his own music and reacted with his habitual arrogance.

Later he allowed Jorge Ramos to return to the press conference, as if it were a safe-conduct or dispensation so that Jorge could do his job. Of course, that didn’t alter Mr. Trump’s ugly political image. Today the United States has one of the most intelligent and well-meaning Presidents in the last forty years. It bears mentioning that many of Mr. Obama’s programs,, what he wanted or attempted to bring to fruition, have been destroyed by the Republican Party and its exponents such as Mr. Trump. I don’t believe that these problems faced by Mr. Obama are the exclusive products of racism, which, by the way exists not only in the United States but in Latin America as well. This is something we all need to be aware of.

The obstacle to Mr. Obama’s plans is the opposition of certain sectors to changes that would bring a better and fairer society. Mr. Trump’s contrary approach to politics, “Speak whatever comes to mind and worry about a reason later,” attracts a growing number of followers which is scary The struggle in the United States, not quite a war yet, is not only over money but also over ideas. What he slyly discusses is the kind of society he wants the United States to be in twenty years. Trump’s attitude, wild generalizations and a paternalism that conveys a false message of solidarity constitute some of the worst that this noble nation has to offer.

The followers who put up with his nonsense are not just Anglos. He has some Latino backers who are captivated by Trump’s material accomplishments and conclude falsely that he is rich and therefore does not have to “steal.”

To criticize Trump makes as much sense as striking a drunkard because of the idiotic things he says. Let us just deny him the credibility he is after. He is satisfying his ego with his actions. I don’t see him as a dedicated, serious candidate. When the time comes for him to change his furor and vague generalities into serious and concise arguments, his manifest incompetence will end his campaign. He will blame others but he will not be able to get out of his predicament.

In the meantime he is having fun and gaining the fame he obsesses about and that makes him think that his pronouncements or actions actually matter. More upsetting than Trump himself is to see how many people find hope in his political stand without realizing that their hope is tantamount to expecting a well-thought out, rational and productive dialogue. Donald Duck was created to make us laugh. The other Donald is programmed to cause harm. This is nothing to laugh about.


Rubén Blades is a Panamanian actor and singer who has won several Grammy awards. He holds a Master’s degree in International Law from Harvard University. In 1998 he ran for Panama’s presidency and won 18% of the vote. Here he gives us in the United States a view of how the world sees us and our racialized politics, especially in regard to Latinos and Latino issues. The original appeared, in Spanish, on Rubén Blades’ website, and it has been translated and reposted here with permission of the author, by José Cobas, with the assistance of Stephania Myers Irizarry. There were only minor changes from the original.

Erica Jong and Why Critiquing White Feminism is Necessary

I first read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying some time in the 1990s, way of out context from the time it was published. The novel recounts the adventures of Jong’s alter-ego Isadora Wing, who is on a quest to find meaning outside a deadening marriage. When the book was published in 1973, Jong was a relatively young 30-years old and the book, with its shocking-for-the-time embrace of the zipless f-ck and women’s (hetero) sexuality was a dramatic departure for mainstream understandings of feminism. Leading (male) literary figures at the time – like John Updike and Paul Theroux – said horrible, sexist things about the book, while Henry Miller declared it the “female equivalent” of his novel Tropic of Cancer. It was, for certain women, at one point in time, a revelation and a necessary intervention.  It’s hard to overstate the success of Jong’s first novel: it’s reportedly sold more than 20 million copies and been translated into 27 languages.

Erica Jong


(Erica Jong, image source Wikimedia)

By the time I read Fear of Flying (1973) some twenty years after its publication, it didn’t have much urgency for me, mostly because I’d decided by then that I just didn’t share Jong’s enthusiasm for the male member. (No offense intended to those who have them or enjoy them, but it just wasn’t my thing, so to speak.) I was also put off by the racism in the book, but to be honest, I’d forgotten about that until the people began writing (and drawing) about the book again recently.


(Image source)

Since her first novel, Jong has gone on to publish lots of other books  in a range of genres including poetry, fiction, non-fiction. She’s back in the news – or, at least, in my newsfeed – because of a conversation with Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, at a recent book festival. I’m writing about it here because it refreshes the need for a sustained critique of white feminism.

First, a bit of background on Jong, in case you’re not familiar.  She is the child of “wealthy and bohemian”  parents. She went to Barnard and Columbia, where she studied English Literature. She now lives in a high rise on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She’s been married four times, and has one daughter and one grandchild. All of which is to say, she’s fairly typical for a woman of her class, region, generation. I’ve encountered her on the street, in passing, the way one does in New York, and she fits in her milieu.

What distinguishes her is that in 1973 she wrote a book that became known as “groundbreaking” text for feminists. “To be identified with having written a groundbreaking book is a particular kind of death-mask. I think any writer who becomes famous for one thing feels that way from time to time,” Jong has said of the book’s success and her conflicted relationship to it. 

The Decatur Book Festival

It was this outsized success of Jong’s 1973 novel, along with the release of a new book Fear of Dying, that got her invited to be the recent  Decatur Book Festival,  Jong was billed as the keynote speaker. Gay, an associate professor of English at Purdue University, joined her as interviewer and host, fielding questions from a near-capacity crowd and answering some questions herself. This conversation was meant to celebrate feminism” but according to multiple reports, the format eventually evolved into a casual exchange that became  “testy,”  “awkward” and “uncomfortable”.  That awkwardness is worth exploring for what it reveals about white feminism and why it requires critique.


(Erica Jong, Roxane Gay at the Decatur Book Festival, image source)

These days, Jong likes to call herself a “defrocked academic” by which I can only surmise she means that she was once in a PhD program. Her use of the word “defrocked’ suggests that she was forced out of the program (or academia), but I find nothing that confirms this. She’s also fond of saying that she has “partly returned to her roots as a scholar.” Again, it’s unclear what she means by this.  Whatever she may mean, her “return” to her scholarly roots has not meant delving into black feminist thought  or  “intersectionality”  among the most important develops in feminism in the last twenty years. When Roxane Gay mentioned the word intersectionality in passing, Jong interrupted to ask “What’s that?” 

Jong also seems to be under the mistaken impression that no one knew about abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth until Gloria Steinem starting writing about her in Ms. Magazine.  

She is simply wrong about this unless she means that “no one” in her social circle knew about Sojourner Truth until then. As Gloria Steinem tells it, they were originally going to name the magazine “Sojourner” but this was perceived to be a travel magazine, so they chose ‘Ms.’ as a shorter, more marketable title. Beyond Jong’s factual error, her re-telling of it in this particular way overlays the accomplishments of a white woman (Steinem) on top of the achievements of a Black woman (Sojourner Truth). This both diminishes Sojourner Truth’s position within feminism, while is elevates Steinem’s. It also re-writes the ways that Steinem herself has tried to work in solidarity with black women, including Dorothy Pitman-Hughes, Flo Kennedy and Alice Walker. Steinem recently acknowledged “black women invented feminism.”  Jong seems to have in mind the iconic image (below) in her vision of feminism. But, even if we only take the second-wave of feminism into consideration, that image of Gloria Steinem and Deborah Pitman-Hughes is more aspirational than reportorial. And, it’s an image that represents a very narrow view of racial diversity, and reinforces cisgender women’s place at the center of feminism.


Steinem and Pitman-Hughes Fists

(Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman-Hughes,
images: left – 1971, Dan Ragan; right – 2014, Dan Wynn)


One of the reports on the exchange at the book festival attributed the disconnect between Jong and Gay (and the mostly Gay-supportive audience) to the “generational, cultural and racial divides” within feminism. While it’s true those differences exist and were evident in their conversation, the characterization of these as a series of “divides” situates Jong and Gay equally, on opposing sides of something (generation, culture, race) neither controls. What this talk of “divides” misses, of course, is power. Jong and Gay are not situated equally. Jong is white, wealthy, well-known; Gay is black, not wealthy, and becoming well-known. These are important dimensions of power that are overlooked in the simplistic language of “divides.” Both Jong and Gay can be feminist though they come from these different positions but what an intersectional feminism requires is some self-reflection on how one’s place in the world shapes one’s need for, relationship to and practice of feminism.

This is Roxane Gay’s genius in Bad Feminist. She tells us where she is in the world and how that shapes her relationship to feminism.  

The characterization of the book festival exchange as “testy” “awkward” and “uncomfortable” trivializes the difference between Jong and Gay as an interpersonal squabble between two women. This is an old strategy for dismissing feminism. “Oh, just a bunch of women, arguing…who cares?” When this sort of “testy” exchange happens between a white woman and a woman of color, it’s the woman of color who bears the burden of the conflict. Given the powerful stereotype of the “angry black woman,” the onus of the way this exchange was reported implicitly falls on Gay, and her supporters, even though all reports indicate she and the audience exercised a great deal of restraint.

In her report about the Decatur Book Festival, Cristen Conger writes that  white feminism and privilege oversight is still alive …it’s high time white feminists face and own up to this unsavory past and present.”

But why is it ‘high time’ for such a reckoning? Many people object to this kind of critique because – based on what I’ve been able to glean from readin  the comments on this piece (g-d help me) and reading the comments I’ve gotten on my series about white feminism – the thinking seems to be that this is being needlessly divisive. Can’t we all just raise our fists in sisterhood and solidarity? Doesn’t the patriarchy (if we’re still using that word) win if you’re critiquing white feminism? I don’t think so. 


Why Critiquing White Feminism is Necessary

White feminism is a set of ideas – an ideology – a way of advocating for gender equality without attention to race or class. It’s not simply that there are a ‘few bad apples’ (i.e., racist white women) within an otherwise trouble-free feminist landscape. White feminism is a systematic way of looking at the world; it’s often promoted or practiced by white women, although it’s not exclusive to white women. This short video by Zeba Blay and Emma Gray is a good primer if you’re new to these ideas.  You can also go back and read the series about white feminism starting here.

For me, personally, it’s important to critique white feminism because it harms other women and perpetuates racism (causing more harm). My critique is meant to interrupt the harmful cycle of ‘gender only’ feminism that replays in generation after generation of feminists. This cycle is a kind of ignorance that’s painful to other women, especially women of color, and also queer, gender nonconforming and transgender women of all races. It is the opposite of sisterhood, the antithesis of feminism. 

It’s possible to see what’s at stake and why we need a sustained critique of white feminism in a recent review of Erica Jong’s work.

Reviewing Fear of Flying on its 40th anniversary in 2013 (“Is the sexiest novel of the 1970s still relevant?”), Katy Waldman mentions the racism of the book, but then buries that critique by including a defensive quote from Jong about the chapter title mentioned earlier (“Arabs and Other Animals.”). Waldman then writes: But I am underselling this novel, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month with a reissue and has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.”  So, not only is the racism of the text set aside as unimportant or irrelevant, but we’re reminded of the novel’s successful sales.

Part of what’s at stake here is that Jong’s voice is amplified globally- 20 million copies in 27 languages –  in a way that other feminist writers and voices are not. That’s an enormous power. And, it has an impact. In the same review, Waldman writes about literature and how people wrote novels differently in the 1970s (hoping to produce One Great Character), then she writes this:

“For as much as Fear of Flying is about producing that One Great Character, it is also about understanding womanhood circa 1973.  [emphasis added]

In fact, Erica Jong’s writing tells us about a very, very thin slice of wealthy, urban, white, American, Jewish, heterosexual, thin, cis-gendered womanhood. And yet, her voice, her writing, is held out at offering us an understanding of WOMANHOOD. This is the quintessential move of white feminism, and it’s important to critique it in order to recognize that what it means to be a “woman” encompasses multiple lives, experiences, and perspectives. This form of ‘gender only’ feminism erases all those other experiences and flattens into one, that looks like Isadora Wing/Erica Jong.

While Jong’s conversational missteps at the book festival can be partially attributed to coming from an earlier era of feminism, she continues to speak out in ways that are harmful to other women. In a recent ALL CAPS post to Twiitter, she had this to say about sex workers:

There is lots of smart, feminist writing out there about women and sex work, like Melissa Gira Grant’s  Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (2014), but Jong has apparently not read any of this, it seems. Her tweet struck me as an odd reaction – “strange smelly bods” — from someone whose writing is so explicitly and enthusiastically involved with “bods”.  Perhaps this is related to the way Jong equates rape with sex work and the reaction to her first book, she said in an interview:

“It was sort of as if I was a prostitute available to everyone because I’d written freely about sex; that happens in a very puritanical culture.”

Jong’s brand of ‘gender only’ white feminism doesn’t have room for women who are sex workers. Although she was an early and avid adopter of the overshare about her personal life she is somewhat paradoxically not given to self-reflection about how her pronouncements on sex work and feminism and ‘womanhood’ might be damaging to some women.

That’s why it’s important to keep critiquing white feminism, to undo some of the damage of this set of ideas.

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, am I saying that wealthy, white, Upper East Side ladies can’t be feminists? No. That’s not it at all.

The conversation at the book festival between Jong and Gay could have gone much differently  if a couple of things had shifted. First, if Jong hadn’t been so defensive and a little more self-aware about her position, then a different kind of conversation might have been possible. And, if Jong had been more well informed about the history and scholarship of white feminism, another kind of encounter might have happened. Instead, it just replayed old scripts of white feminism in a way that was hurtful and left many women, including queer, gender nonconforming, and transgender women of color, out of the conversation.

If these things had shifted, then the exchange could have been an actual example of intersectional feminism. But it didn’t. It ended with Erica Jong saying something about it was going to “take a lot of work” to get a more inclusive feminism. And Roxane Gay clarified: “The work of fixing racism isn’t something that we, people of color, have to do. We don’t have the problem. We’re good.” 

Let’s be clear where the work need to happen: with white women who are the most frequent purveyors of white feminism.



<<<< Read the previous post in series

“Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter”: Latest Racial Battle over Language

Once again America is embroiled in a racial shouting match. We cannot even agree on how to talk about our latest racial crisis: the seemingly daily police and vigilante killings of unarmed African Americans.

This language battle was evident last spring after a group of students expressed both their concern about racial incidents at the University of Connecticut and their solidarity with the growing Black Lives Matter movement by painting “Racism at Storrs” and “Black Lives Matter” on the opposite sides of the campus “Spirit Rock” designated for student expression.

UConn Spirit Rock

(Image source)

Unfortunately, it did not take long for someone to paint over the words racism and Black to express their view that there is no racism on campus and that only color-blind language that declares “All Lives Matter” is allowed there. That language battle is reminiscent of the one anti-racists won on the same campus in the mid-1990s over whether the word “White” would be allowed in the title of the White Racism course I have taught there ever since.

What was especially sad about the most recent UConn battle over words, some two decades later, was how many European Americans, both on and off campus, supported that All Lives Matter brush over as they refused to acknowledge the simple fact that African Americans, in particular, are facing what seems to be an epidemic of killings by European-American men, both in and out of uniform. Think about it. The legitimate concerns of African Americans were literally painted over!

Driven by racism-evasive politics, the whitewashing of this nation’s serious racial crisis has also been thrust onto the national presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton was criticized for the same insensitivity by also framing the issue as one of All Lives Matter. Later, after declaring that “All Lives Matter,” Martin O’Malley–another candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for president–was shouted down by African-American protestors who accused him of being indifferent to their racism-specific concern. And still more recently protestors went after Republican primary candidate Jeb Bush after he glibly denounced O’Malley’s apology as yet another example of “political correctness.”

Unfortunately, the emergence of the “All Lives Matter” slogan is much more than yet another example of color-blind ideology run amok. It officially marked the beginning of the white backlash against the Black Lives Movement that conservative media like Fox News and Republican presidential candidates like Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Donald Trump increasingly use to fuel their racism-driven ratings and campaigns.

This is of course nothing new: words matter in both exposing American racism and in keeping it hidden. When European Americans refer to the nation’s race relations problem they typically use vague, obfuscating, and misdirecting terms like race, the race issue, and minorities where-as African Americans and other people of color are more likely to deploy words like racism and the racially oppressed. In my recently completed study of how the social sciences in the United States mirror the larger society’s racial language I document a constant battle between what I refer to as the linguistic racial accommodation enforced by the nation’s white power structure and the linguistic racial confrontation pushed forward, whenever they can, by the racially oppressed. I found that the use of racially accommodative language like framing the nation’s systemic racism problem as its “Negro problem” or of one of simply the prejudice of a few racially-bigoted outliers is the usual state of affairs and that only when there is a successful challenge to the racial status quo is the language of the racially oppressed forced into the national discourse.

That was certainly the case in the late 1960s after civil unrest broke out in scores of American cities when a presidential commission actually identified “white racism” as this nation’s major problem. Fast forward to not long ago, nearly a half century later, when in response to Black Lives Matter protests Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders–with the help of a recently hired African-American press secretary aligned with that movement– released the most explicit “racism and racial justice” presidential platform in American history. Sander’s platform outlines his position not only on the physical violence African Americans endure but also on the political, legal, and economic violence we face daily.

It remains to be seen how long our current racial language battle will last and what will come of it. But there is growing evidence that African Americans and other racially oppressed people will no longer allow our concerns about systemic racism to be painted over by not only conservatives but by racism-evasive progressives who attempt to promote their own legitimate concerns by whitewashing those that are specific to us. Hopefully while this battle continues it will fuel an honest discussion of one of this nation’s most important social problems; one which includes a large and robust conceptualization of systemic racism which enables us to move beyond specious debates like “who is a racist?” and whether, by some strange logic, a movement that insists that “black” lives matter in the face of what appears to be an open hunting season on African Americans by angry white men with guns somehow implies that “white” lives don’t.

Noel A. Cazenave is Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. His forthcoming book, Conceptualizing Racism: Breaking the Chains of Racially Accommodative Language, will be released in November. His current book project is tentatively titled, Killing African Americans: Police and Vigilante Violence as a Racial Control Mechanism.

Trump’s Bête Noire: Citizenship of Us-Born Children of the Undocumented

Undocumented immigrants’ children born in the US have become Trump’s latest foe. He does not believe that these US children hold valid citizenship despite the fact that since they were born in the US they receive citizenship automatically, a right granted by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Donald Trump

He put it as follows:

I don’t think they have American citizenship and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers — and I know some will disagree — but many of them agree with me and you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship.

In his usual rambling manner, he does not name any of the “very, very good lawyers” nor does he elaborate his reasons for saying that these children are not US citizens by birth. Trump is not one to quibble over “details”: The children are not citizens because he says so, because the “incompetent idiots in Washington are wrong” as always.

An article in the Washington Post outlines the flaws in Trump’s proposal:

He leaves out what is perhaps the most important detail: Such change would be very difficult as it would require the repeal of the 14th Amendment, which would take require the approval of 75 percent (or 38) of the state legislatures, an unlikely event. There have been 11,000 attempts to amend the Constitution in the entire history of the United States, and only 27 succeeded.

Even Trump sycophant Ted Cruz admits the difficulty of changing Constitutional amendments. According to birthright supporters, ending it would have catastrophic consequences:

Supporters of birthright citizenship say there are a number of reasons it should be maintained. It’s part of the Constitution. Attempts to restrict it have historically been motivated by racist fears of immigrants and their children. Ending it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. The most extreme consequence would be a massive group of stateless people — neither citizens in the U.S. nor in foreign countries.

These warnings do not seem to have much on an impact on other Republicans, particularly the candidates for the Presidential nomination:

This week, several of Mr. Trump’s Republican rivals, including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, echoed his call to end automatic citizenship for the American-born children of undocumented immigrants, repealing a constitutional right dating from the Civil War era.

Public opinion about birthright citizenship is mixed. A Wall Street Journal /NBC poll found that 43% of Republicans in the sample said that the U.S. should work to find and deport people who have come to the U.S. illegally. However, a survey of a sample of 2,002 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center in May, 2015, found that 72 percent of respondents believed that

Undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met.

Public opinion may be divided, but the effects of the anti-birthright campaign have been dire. Some children in Texas are unable to secure the birth certificates they need to enroll in school:

At issue is the health service agency’s Vital Statics Unit, which is responsible for issuing birth certificates, and its refusal to honor various foreign identifications from immigrant parents. Many Mexican immigrants receive identification cards commonly known as matriculas, which are issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the United States. But officials [in Texas] have increasingly come to refuse these, making it harder for parents living in the U.S. illegally to obtain birth certificates for their children.

To sum up: Trump is stirring up more anti-undocumented immigrant rhetoric through an attack against a Constitutionally-given right, birthright US citizenship. Trump, always the sophist, contends that children of undocumented immigrant born in the US were never citizens, an idea he claims is supported by “very good lawyers,” whom he fails to identify.

In fact, the only way to eliminate birthright citizenship is to repeal the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, something practically impossible because bringing about such repeals are very difficult, as shown by thousands of attempts have failed in the past. The “bottom line” is that Trump is stirring up a controversy that has no practical purpose. The only result is that undocumented parents find it very difficult to obtain the birth certificates their children need to enroll in school. How Trumplike: Being a loose cannon and disregarding its consequences.

Latino Newscasters: Mind Your R’s

“He (Jeb Bush) is a nice man. But he should really set the example by speaking English while in the United States.” (Donald Trump)

Vanessa Ruiz

Phoenix’s Channel 12 newscaster Vanessa Ruiz, who was born in Miami and grew up in Colombia, ruffled some (probably mostly white) feathers because of the way she pronounces Spanish on the air: like a native speaker.

Ms. Ruiz, who was raised in a bilingual household, said some viewers had questioned her way of pronouncing Spanish words. Sandra Kotzambasis, the station’s news director, said viewers were asking why Ms. Ruiz ‘rolled her Rs.’

Viewers were also upset at the way Ms. Ruiz pronounced the names of local areas that had Spanish names originating in colonial times:

(S)ome viewers objected to . . . her habit of pronouncing local place names, such as the city of “Mesa,” as these names were meant to be pronounced. They preferred that a journalist who has lived and worked throughout the United States and Latin America pronounce such words their way (‘May-Sah’).

This is another instance of the crazy issues that arise in reference to Spanish in this country. The viewers seem to be saying: We have difficulty pronouncing Spanish as required by grammar so why shouldn’t you also? Makes sense?

I’ve been writing and doing research in the area of language and oppression for a few years but I was not familiar with the forms of discrimination that Ms. Ruiz experienced. On the surface it seems to be a nonsensical, petty complaint, but it is just another effort to deny Spanish legitimacy at any level.

The issue of language suppression is not just an abstract academic pursuit for me. It is personal.

My parents, brother and I left Cuba in 1962. Our native language was Spanish. My family arrived in Miami and shortly thereafter I enrolled in High School. I was not fluent in English and was completely lost the first day in class. I turned to another Cuban student to ask him a question in Spanish and he said “They don’t want us to speak Spanish.” As I sat there trying to make sense of what the other student said, the white teacher caught on and told me, “You are going to have to learn.” I had arrived from Cuba just a few days before and was not fluent in English but the school expected me to communicate in a language I didn’t know and to refrain from communicating in a language I knew. How is that for surreal?

These ideas make sense only in light of what Joe Feagin calls the white racial frame, the complex worldview that insists that only whites and their culture really matter. It is a crazy worldview purported to hold the ultimate truth

My brother lives in Puerto Rico. He and his wife have a teenage daughter and have not escaped the economic difficulties that Puerto Ricans have been suffering for a while. He has a good profession and is fluent in English. Some members of my family couldn’t understand why he and his family wouldn’t move from Puerto Rico to the mainland where he could find better job opportunities. His answer was direct: He knew how Latinos, particularly those with “accents,” were often treated in the mainland. He wasn’t willing to expose his daughter to such treatment in exchange for any amount of money. He is lucky in that he had a choice. Unfortunately, there are many others who don’t.


Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Fox, and “Hate Group” Labels

I am no historian, but I have a feeling that people have been hating each other for hundreds of thousands of years. Only after a wave of hate-related crime in the 1980s did the term “hate crime” become widely used. Curiously enough, while the original purpose of the term was to classify a set of crimes perpetrated against minorities, people are starting to use the term in an attempt to perpetuate violence against minorities, specifically Black people.

What am I talking about? I am writing to answer Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s question on Fox & Friends, “Why has the #BlackLivesMatter movement not been classified yet as a hate group? I mean, how much more has to go in this direction before someone actually labels it as such?”

(Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Fox News)

Hasselbeck was responding chiefly to two recent events: a #BlackLivesMatter protest march at the Minnesota State Fair and the shooting of White Police officer Darren Goforth. During the protest, some marchers chanted “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” in reference to police officers. This chant disturbed viewers who were still shaken by Goforth’s death, particularly because his suspected killer is Black. Although Hasselbeck gave her opinion following these two specific events, her bewildered tone implies that she thinks the #BlackLivesMatter campaign should have been labeled a hate group long ago.

It does not help Hasselbeck’s case that she made these comments on Fox News, a network that the political left scorns for misrepresenting information to promote their political agenda. To no one’s surprise, left-leaning news sources have come to the defense of the #BlackLivesMatter movement with characteristically refined rebuttals that most Fox supporters probably won’t ever read. Unfortunately, the mere setting of her question fuels all sorts of polarized hate—Republicans versus Democrats, supporters versus skeptics of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, fans of Fox News versus fans of the Huffington Post, and Whites versus people of color.

But regardless of which news network pays Elisabeth Hasselbeck or who Elisabeth Hasselbeck is, it is undeniable that she asks an important question. So let us investigate: Why hasn’t the #BlackLivesMatter campaign been labeled a hate group?

Simply put, because the primary purpose of #BlackLivesMatter is social change, not hate or violence.

Hate groups have one primary focus: promoting hate against groups of people. The Southern Poverty Law Center, co-founded by the late Civil Rights hero Julian Bond, defines hate groups as organizations or movements that aim to “attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for [things they can’t change].” These things may be race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender, among others.

Part of Hasselbeck’s mistake is that her ears perk up to one chant at one rally of a movement that has been at work for years. In other words, she fails to see the big picture of #BlackLivesMatter. If the chanting at the #BlackLivesMatter protest in Minnesota represented the core of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, then it would be right to call the group a hate group; however, no matter how hateful the chant seems, it does not represent the group’s primary purpose: profound and lasting revision of the systems and institutions that disempower Black people.

In Hasselbeck’s defense, verbal violence can incite physical violence. Ehud Sprinzak, a counterterrorism expert, makes an important distinction between verbal and real violence. Verbal violence uses extreme language to imply a real physical threat or to call indirectly for others to harm someone physically (see Ehud Sprinzak, Brother against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination  New York: The Free Press, 1999). Sprinzak notes that while most people know not to confuse this with real violence, verbal violence has the potential to incite less discerning people into acts of real, physical violence. So, it is possible that chanting “pigs in blankets, fry ‘em them like bacon” might compel someone with a loose screw to turn metaphor into murder. However, I repeat that literally or figuratively frying police officers is not the chief aim of #BlackLivesMatter. Its aim is to change American policies such that it is no longer unobvious that Black lives matter.

Why might Elisabeth Hasselbeck believe that #BlackLivesMatter is a hate group? Personally, I interpret her reaction as par-for-the-course human behavior: cherry-picking events that support one’s preconceived notions and ignoring events that contradict them, all for the purpose of nestling oneself more comfortably into the fluffy bed of “us and them.”

Let me explain. Hate groups rarely classify themselves as hate groups without adding some kind of justification or qualification. For example, religious hate groups might justify their hatred by saying that they hate the behavior, not the person. In other words, they believe they are doing what’s right, protecting what is sacred, promoting the greater good, or building solidarity amongst themselves—and that justifies their hatred. That said, in order to classify a group as a hate group, the person classifying it cannot be a member. Therefore, when someone classifies a group as a hate group, he or she makes a strong statement that he or she does not identify with the cause of that group. “Hate group,” in a broad sense, means “not my group.”

In light of this, Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s question merely serves as a ten-foot-pole with which she can push away #BlackLivesMatter and everything it stands for. Whether she uses the label “hate group” or “terrorist organization” or “fanatic” or “anarchist” or “extremist” or “Communist” does not matter—all that matters is that she uses a buzzword on a conservative news channel that triggers her audience to harden themselves against the enemy and empty themselves of any sympathy they once had for #BlackLivesMatter. After all, how could anyone sympathize with a “hate group”? You would have to be very confused and closed-minded to do that, right? You would have to be un-American, because Americans aren’t hateful. We are reasonable people who love liberty, not like those extremists.

By using the term “hate group” to make the #BlackLivesMatter campaign seem alien to American values—a rhetorical technique called “othering”—Elisabeth Hasselbeck prevents her audience from seeing any value in the social changes that #BlackLivesMatter intends to bring about. She uses the term as propaganda to prejudice her audience against the movement and, indirectly, against Black people as a cause worth fighting for. By placing #BlackLivesMatter among hate groups, Hasselbeck confirms that the present system—her system, the status quo—is diametrically opposed to the empowerment of Black people.

Hasselbeck might as well have asked, “Why has the #BlackLivesMatter movement not been officially written off by some authority as a movement we shouldn’t take seriously?”

The answer to that question, of course, is this: because #BlackLivesMatter is a movement that we should take seriously. It has not been called a hate group because its mission is constructive, not destructive. #BlackLivesMatter activists want to reform the system, not kill police officers. They want safety for Black people, not peril for Whites. We can never forget about it, and the movement will end when being Black in America is no longer a burden of fear, but a privilege and a joy.

~ Lessie Branch,is a Public and Urban doctoral candidate at The Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy and teaches at Monroe College.


The “Coming White Minority”: Brazilianization or South-Africanization of U.S.?

To understand the so-called “browning of America” and “coming white minority,” we should accent the larger societal context, the big-picture context including systemic racism. “Browning of America” issues have become important in the West mainly because whites are very worried about this demographic trend. Black-British scholar, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, has noted that whites are fearful

because for such a long time the world has been their own. . . . There is an underlying assumption that says white is right. . . . There is a white panic every time one part of their world seems to be passing over to anyone else. . . . There was this extraordinary assumption that white people could go and destroy peoples and it would have no consequence.

Let us consider a few reasonable, albeit speculative, extrapolations of current social science data to social changes from now to the 2050s:

(1) Dramatic demographic changes are coming: According to US Census projections this country will become much less white, with the greatest relative growth in the Latino, Asian, and multiracial populations. By 2050 it will be about 439 million people, with a majority of people of color (53 percent), the largest group being Latino (30 percent). Long before, a majority of students and younger workers will be of color. Over coming decades immigrant workers of color and their descendants will keep more cities from economic decline. Census data for 2050 indicate the oldest population cohort will be disproportionately white and younger cohorts will be disproportionately people of color–thereby overlaying a racial divide with a generational divide, probably generating racial-generational conflicts (See William Frey, The Diversity Explosion).

(2) This growing population of color will likely mean significant increases in an array of significant US socio-racial patterns, including interracial relationships and marriages, number of multiracial Americans, more diversity in media presentations, and a major religious shift in direction of (Latin American) Catholicism and Asian religions. (In 2050 white Christians will probably be only about 30 percent of the population.)

(3) Uneven changes in still high racial (residential) segregation will occur: At the census tract level, we will likely see variable but decreasing group segregation within cities (for example, Latino replacement of whites or blacks, scattered white gentrification). At the larger metropolitan area level, we are likely to see continuing, substantial racial segregation (less-white inner suburbs or central city areas versus disproportionately white outer suburbs, exurbia, smaller cities). (On this macro-segregation, see D. Lichter et alia here) Likely thus is significant white migration favoring these segregated, white-run political entities, such as in the inner areas of the West. Likely too is significant continuing migration of immigrants and other people of color to coastal cities, but also increasingly to cities across the country. These migrations will increase regional diversity, but not necessarily at the metropolitan area level within them.

(4) The growing fear of ordinary whites about increases in Americans of color seems based substantially on concern about losing much racial privilege and related social status, and probably about more egalitarian interactions with those deemed inferior. Social science research has long shown that the relative size of black or nonwhite populations correlates not only with occupational, income, educational, health inequalities, and voter suppression efforts, but also with white racist attitudes, support for public programs, and votes for conservative candidates. With growing populations of color, many ordinary whites are likely to continue to insist on what W. E. B. Du Bois called the “public and psychological wage of whiteness” (white privilege, racial inequalities) as they accept more elite white actions harming them socioeconomically.

(5) Modest change will occur in a still oligarchical society. Elite white men will still run this country in their interest, with increased elite representation of white women. For centuries they have ruled as a minority and conceivably can do that for many more years. In the capitalistic economy there will be continuing large-scale inequality and control by a mostly white corporate elite, with token infusions of executives and professionals of color. Just below that elite, important professional and managerial spheres will remain disproportionately white. Great technological change will continue, substantially rooted in computerized automation of perhaps half of current U.S. jobs, thereby probably increasing unemployment–especially for the then majority of working and lower middle class workers of color). Income and wealth inequalities along racial/class lines will likely stay very substantial. Internationally, however, the U.S. is likely to lose some of its dominant position economically and politically as the world becomes more polycentric, with other countries becoming more powerful, most predominantly of color.

(6) Some significant changes in a firmly oligarchic government system are coming: We will have a majority of voters of color in many areas, but continuing undemocratic political institutions—nationally, an unelected Supreme Court, unrepresentative Senate, and unrepresentative Congress controlled directly or indirectly by the white elite’s political-economic power. Major political organizations will see more diversification as people of color participate more; the Democratic Party will probably become the major political party in numerous legislative bodies. (Liberal representatives of color will likely often replace white liberals, with less net change in liberal political influence.) U.S. foreign policy is likely to shift to a greater emphasis on Latin America, Asia, and Africa, because other countries are becoming more economically and militarily powerful.

At the local political level, we will likely observe significant political change, with many places having majorities of voters of color and greater representation for them and their perspectives. Some whites will try to create political coalitions with more “acceptable” middle class people of color. At local, state, and national levels, we will likely see conflict between (often younger) voters of color seeking greater political representation and necessary public services (e.g., good schools) and disproportionately older white voters (led by the white elite) who view many public services as “black/brown” services and fight as propertied taxpayers to keep government taxes and regulation low–preserving white political-economic interests. Impoverished communities of color will continue to suffer disproportionate overcrowding, poverty, and environmental racism (aggravated by major climate change). Over coming decades, white political and economic leaders will persist in a “neoliberal” emphasis on government austerity, deregulation, privatization, and lower taxes, protecting their elite interests. (See the pioneering work of Randy Hohle on racism and neoliberalism)

Additionally, the demographic trend toward a “majority minority” country will itself do little to redress the major effects of past racial oppression. Huge losses in people and resources suffered by Native Americans, the first victims of genocidal oppression, and of African Americans, the first whose labor was stolen on a large scale, top the list, but the oppression costs suffered by other groups of color, including Asian Americans and Latinos, are also massive. Few costs are likely to be dealt with by government redress in a world where whites still have disproportionate political-economic power. Generationally inherited unjust enrichments for whites from past oppressions will make major structural change very difficult.

A Panoramic View: Brazilianization or South-Africanization?

In recent years numerous scholars and media analysts have suggested the idea of significantly greater racial intermediation coming as the U.S. becomes much less white. Taking a panoramic view, they suggest a future that involves a “Brazilianization” or “Latinization’ of the United States.

Brazil’s racialization process has distinguished large mixed-race, mostly lighter-skinned groups and placed them in a middling status between Brazilians of mostly African ancestry and those of heavily European ancestry. Middle groups are relatively more affluent, politically powerful, and acceptable to dominant white Brazilians, who still mostly rule powerfully at the top of the economy and politics. About half the population, darker-skinned Afro-Brazilians and indigenous Brazilians, remains very powerless economically and politically. Possibly, in the U.S. case by 2050, a developed tripartite Brazilian pattern—with increasing and large but white-positioned intermediate racial groups, such as lighter-skinned middle class groups among Asian Americans and Latinos, moving up with greater economic and socio-political power and providing a racial buffer between powerful “whites” and powerless “blacks” and other darker-skinned people of color. Even then, it seems likely that many in U.S. middle groups will find their white-framed immigration, citizenship positions, or other inferiorized status still negatively affecting additional mobility opportunities.

An alternative future for the United States is somewhat different, at least in emphasis, what one might term “South-Africanization.” Both scenarios see whites in substantial economic control, but South-Africanization suggests, even if people of color gain large-scale political power, they will be severely handicapped by whites holding economic power. With the downfall of apartheid in South Africa two decades ago, black South Africans gained direct political control, but very modest increases in economic power. (Black South Africans are substantial majority of the population but control maybe 10 percent of the corporate economy.) From its beginning as a European colony, a large black African majority has been economically controlled by a small white minority. South Africa has an essentially two-category system, since intermediate groups of Asian and mixed-race citizens remain relatively small (if more powerful than blacks). This pattern might be an alternative U.S. future, with ever increasing Americans of color eventually gaining very substantial political power in local and national political systems, especially in areas where they are large majorities. Yet that political system will be one where the mostly white economic elite remains firmly in control of the national economy and will also directly or indirectly control most important policymaking by top officials, white or not-white, especially on major economic developments. As in South Africa, Americans of color will not gain major control at the top of the capitalistic system where much societal power lies. That has not happened in South Africa, and seems very unlikely for the U.S. over coming decades.

In my view, thus, the so-called “browning of America” and “coming white minority” will mostly mean a major demographic shift and probably modest political-economic changes, rather than a major departure from this country’s systemic white dominance in all its major, mostly undemocratic institutions.

Test-ocratic Merit vs. Democratic Merit?

What are the benefits of a college education in a diverse democracy? Research indicates that these benefits include the ability to strengthen critical thinking, to provide students with the capacity for leadership, problem-solving, and creativity, and to strengthen social agency and pluralistic orientation for careers and citizenship in a global society. Yet is the inordinate emphasis on college entrance aptitude tests really a measure of merit and of the abilities of potential college students to develop these needed competencies?

Lani Guinier’s new book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (Beacon Press, 2015) describes how higher education has drifted from a mission-driven to an admission-driven system, focused almost exclusively on the predictive value of the SAT-type tests for success in the first-year of college. In fact, as she notes, the SAT only has a modest correlation with freshman-year grades, whereas grades in the four years of high school are a much stronger predictor of academic success. Guinier asserts that the SAT’s most reliable value is as a proxy for wealth in its norming to white, upper-middle class performance, as shown by the average SAT test scores based on ethnicity.

Alluding to the “Volvo effect” in Andrew Ferguson’s book, Crazy U Professor Guinier refers to the inordinate amount of funding and effort placed by wealthy parents on preparing their children for college entrance exams. As she explains, “Aptitude tests do not predict leadership, emotional intelligence, or the capacity to work with others to contribute to society” (p. 26). As a result, she calls for a culture shift in terms of how we evaluate merit in terms of “democratic values” rather than “testocratic machinery.”

An important insight from this thought-provoking book is that democratic merit within an institution of higher education is defined by context. As such, the definition of merit crystallizes the mission and purposes of the institution and necessarily involves choices about which characteristics of the applicant pool are valuable. This definition is particularly germane to discussions about affirmative action in the wake of the 2013 Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin Supreme Court case that will be reheard this fall on appeal.

In the Fisher ruling, the Supreme Court has determined that colleges and universities must exhaust race-neutral alternatives before consideration of race-conscious factors in a holistic admissions process. Guinier indicates that Fisher and other affirmative action opponents have singled out race, before any other admissions criterion such as musical ability or athletic accomplishment, as undeserving of consideration. A perhaps unintended benefit of the Court’s ruling, however, is that colleges and universities must proactively re-examine their mission statements for the ways in which these statements articulate the importance of diversity. As Alvin Evans and I point out in our new book, Affirmative Action at a Crossroads: Fisher and Forward (Jossey-Bass, 2015) the Fisher decision brings the institutional context for diversity into the foreground, since a college or university’s specific rationale for a diverse student body needs to be framed in the context of mission, vision, and values statements.

In Guinier’s view an “obsessive culture of testing” obscures the emphasis on developing student potential and results in institutions that lack meaningful race and class diversity. From this perspective, the attainment of democracy learning outcomes in the undergraduate experience cannot rely on a single, weak predictor of first-year success such as the SAT, but instead requires an educational focus consistent with institutional mission that nurtures individual talent and fosters the access and success of a diverse student body.

Least Equal States: New Mexico, Arizona at Top

Matt Bruenig at Demos has spreadsheet/map (disposable income) of least egalitarian states, with the most inegalitarian ten all in South and Southwest, with New Mexico, Arizona, California in the top three. He concludes thus about the ventiles (ventile=1/20)and percentiles (see @billmon1 for nice map):

Mississippi is quite poor. In both equivalized and per capita income, Mississippi is in last or second-to-last place for every ventile except the 5th percentile in equivalized income where it is in third-to-last place.

New Hampshire outperforms everywhere except the top. In both equivalized and per capita income, New Hampshire is ranked number one at every ventile until you get to the 70th or 75th percentile, at which point it gives way to New Jersey and Connecticut. Even at the higher percentiles, however, New Hampshire remains in the top 5 or 6 states.

Vermont is the most equal. In both equivalized and per capita income, Vermont has the lowest P90/P10 ratio, the second-to-lowest P90/P50 ratio (behind Minnesota), and the lowest P50/P10 ratio.

New Mexico is the least equal? In equivalized income, New Mexico has the highest P90/P10 ratio, the highest P90/P50 ratio, and the second-to-highest P50/P10 ratio (behind Arkansas). In per capita income, New Mexico has the highest P90/P10 ratio, the highest P90/P50 ratio, and the fourth-to-highest P50/P10 ratio (behind Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma in that order).